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Worlds largest household longitudinal study launches

One thing that all western nations have in common is our ever evolving societies.

In order to understand the impact of such changes on our communities, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is launching Understanding Society, the world’s largest ever household longitudinal study on Monday 13th October 2008. Understanding Society will provide valuable new evidence to inform research on the vital issues facing our communities.

Initial funding for the project is £15.5 million, which comes from the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills and the ESRC and represents the largest single investment in academic social research resources ever launched in the UK. As a longitudinal study, the initial funding will carry the study though to 2012, however it is envisaged that the project will continue for decades to come.

For at least the last 50 years, social scientists have been capturing information to study these changes, in studies such as the British Household Panel Survey, and successive Governments have been using that information to inform policy decisions, such as the long term health implications of smoking and how poverty impacts on children.

This ambitious study, Understanding Society, will be the largest study of its type ever undertaken, anywhere in the world. It will collect information from 100,000 individuals, across 40,000 households from across the country, from Lands End to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It will assist with the understanding of the long term effects of social and economic change, and will provide tools to study the impact of policy interventions on the well being of the UK population.

The large sample size will give a unique opportunity to explore issues for which other longitudinal surveys are too small to support effective research. It will permit analysis of small subgroups, such as teenage parents or disabled people.

Speaking about the launch, Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said: “This is an exciting and important development that will increase our understanding of communities and society in general. The study will benefit policy researchers and policy makers in the UK, and researchers and research users in a wide range of academic and non-academic environments around the world.”

Understanding Society Director, Professor Nick Buck of University of Essex, said: “We are very pleased to lead this exciting project which will provide high quality longitudinal data about the people of the UK, their lives, experiences, behaviours and beliefs, and will enable an unprecedented understanding of diversity within the population. It represents the latest stage in the UK’s uniquely successful tradition of longitudinal data and we aim to ensure it becomes a flagship resource for the research and user community in the UK – and beyond.”


ESRC Press Office:
Kelly Barnett, (Tel: 01793 413032; 07826 874166, email:

Danielle Moore (Tel: 01793 413122, email:

Danielle Moore | alfa
Further information:

Further reports about: ESRC UK population economic change household longitudinal study

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